The Chinese government may have assured the International Olympic Committee that reporters would enjoy Western freedoms while covering the Olympic games, such as unfettered access to the Internet. Once on the ground, however, journalists have discovered that's not exactly the case. The IOC has been busy backtracking. Olympics reps now have clarified that open Web access is only for sites about "Olympic competitions" — not, say, Amnesty International, one of many sites that has been blocked. The question no one has asked, however, is why China should feel compelled to act in any other way?
No restrictions of press freedoms will ultimately harm the financial interest by companies like NBC, which paid $900 million for the right to broadcast the games. And technology companies here in the Valley, from Cisco to Google, have found catering to the censorship whims of party apparatchiks to be quite profitable. While the IOC hides behind apolitical rhetoric as China's human rights abuses have accelerated in advance of the games in an effort to sweep the streets of any political dissidents reporters might stumble upon.
As for trying to get past the filters, good luck. Some of the best network engineers in the world, in both China and the United States, have been developing technology to make sure it won't happen while keeping an eye out for anyone who attempts it. It is illegal in China to use encryption without providing the government with the keys they would need to crack it, and the country could obviously care less about the public perception of restricting access or information from the press by whatever means necessary.
Beijing's continued problem with visibility thanks to air pollution serves as a handy metaphor. The economic and industrial boom in the country makes it easy for everyone to overlook abuses and accept obfuscation of the truth as the cost of doing business. And business is good. So while journalists wring their hands and cry about press freedom, you won't see their employers divesting from the country in protest any time soon. (Photo by Simon Osborne)